Not As Far Down The Coast

Grey River, Newfoundland (Map)

Summer 2013.


It's funny what a difference a day can make.

Sure a whole week had passed - one where I comically drove to Burgeo again on Wednesday - but this next south coast Saturday was sublime.

This was the first year where I listened to people saying that it only gets truly nice in Newfoundland sometime in July, but their claims held true for 2013. It was gross on the 1st and 2nd of July, but the 9th was fantastic. There wasn't a drop of rain in the air, only a distant haze instead of an engulfing fog, and through that I had no trouble seeing Boar Island as the ferry skirted the cliffs to the point where I wondered if it was in our way.

The plan wasn't to remedy the injustice of always visiting Ramea in the rain, but rather the Grey River injustice. Many times when someone brings up the fact that I've seen 700+ communities on this island, other people regularly question if I've really seen that many. Did I just drive along the highway past them? Did I see one street and check off five tightly-woven communities?

I typically have a clean conscience since I've made sure to get off the highway for those communities which you don't drive directly through. The bit of hesitation in my voice would come with thoughts of Grey River. I had been to Grey River 3 years earlier, but for all of 5 minutes, while the boat dropped off supplies during the small window of time allotted before continuing onward to Francois.

Truth be told, if I ended up visiting every last community on this island, I wouldn't lie awake at night thinking about Grey River.

The thing is that Grey River has a lot going for it though. This isn't a flat community of forty, white, vinyl-sided houses confusingly intertwined with a bigger community, raising questions in my head whether it counts or not (i.e. a forgettable place). Grey River shares spectacular cliffs along the same isolated South Coast as Francois (one of my top 5 communities on the island). Grey River has items of interest that I wanted to see. Grey River has access to those similar barrens that I loved outside Francois.

If you add in the weather today, it was an easy decision. Even though refreshments were consumed the night before, things were thrown together and the Burgeo Highway was raced to check off one of my 2013 NF goals.

Sitting out on the top deck, the wind couldn't have been much calmer, or the subsequent waves much gentler. In comparison to past visits down here, it was hard to believe. I was sad that Christian & Natasha were missing this ferry ride.

In addition to the incredible weather, today was finally the day where porpoises propelled themselves from our wake like wound springs. For all of the blogs where people talk about porpoises and the number of people who've seen them around this island, I considered it about time with only one insular Newfoundland ferry left to ride.

In addition to the porpoises, sleek Northern Gannets carved at a distance and whales surfaced at multiple coves along the way. At one point, there were 2 or 3 whales surfacing in a cove while porpoises shot out so close to the behemoths that I wondered about their relationship. The whole scene was absurd.

Remember that this was in addition to the growing cliffs and incredible shorelines which appear shortly after Burgeo.

All of this for a $5.78 passenger ticket.

The entrance to Grey River. The modern light that marks the entrance is on the small knoll in the foreground.

I don't hold the same romance for ferries as other people, finding myself checking my phone for the elapsed time quite often. Throughout this journey, I can't recall ever taking my phone out, the 2.5 hour boat ride passing like a great film. Before I knew it though, I saw the modern light up ahead and knew what was coming, as Grey River is entered by such a narrow slot that it creates tricky water currents on rough days.

As we approached, I was amused with my friend being in her own little world, watching the cliffs, then growing startled with the boat curving towards the cliffs. "Oh, wait, what? We're going in...where? What?"

We slowed and eased past the modern light.

Grey River is on the left, above the gentlemen watching from the front of the boat.

Pushing into the fjord, up ahead a bald eagle soared over Grey River's Jerts Cove, harassed by crows and accompanied by gulls. This was just getting silly by now. If someone came to Newfoundland after watching those over-the-top tourist commercials, this individual trip wouldn't leave them with any authenticity doubts.

The blue building is the old bunkhouse, constructed when there used to be a tungsten mine in Grey River. It's now the teacher's residence.

The townsfolk at the wharf tended to their own visitors and returning family members, while I bobbed through the crowd lugging a hefty hockey bag filled with all of the necessities to break camp. Pushing up the inclined walking path, the small clearing in front of the old tungsten mine seemed as good as anywhere to set down.

The tent was assembled in record time, on account of my excitement to get on top of the barrens just like I had in Francois. I yearned to hit the Dog Cove Trail/ski-doo path as quickly as possible, even though there was still plenty of daylight hours ahead.

If the bald eagles, porpoises, gannets and whales were sent by the Department of Tourism, then they could have at least went the extra mile and removed the mosquitoes. A few nippers were bothersome at the tent site, along with the cleared, well-maintained village streets to the trail beginning; but once in the woods of this ski-doo trail, they were infuriating in their numbers and constant harassment.

I thought back to the time of year I went to Francois, where not a single bug bit me, realizing it was in early May. That being said, it's not like I stay home in July usually. It must simply be a bad year for mosquitoes.

(They'd continue to be bad at plenty of places in the coming weeks.)

Crashing through the forest edge like a marathon runner at the finish line, an expanse of rock and short grasses stretched ahead in all directions. This was doubly satisfying as I imagined strong winds and a lack of vegetation up here, blowing the mosquitoes off into the Atlantic.

As I sat down to water and a snack, I quickly felt them land on my lips, meander into my eyes and buzz into my ears. I was clearly very wrong about the break from them. Putting on my bug net even as I sweated profusely, I remained annoyed as they buzzed as close as possible to my ears, while on the other side of the mesh screen.

As a short-tempered man, I was not at all amused.

I was still on top of these isolated, stunning and easily-traversed barrens. We don't have malaria or widespread West Nile, so there wasn't any great health threat, only annoyance. I breathed in relaxing air and focused on the better aspects.

Rehydrated, I scrambled from rock to rock for the next hour, having trouble with stopping myself from going to "just the next one."

Hiking to one of those last peaks, I hopped off a rock and noticed a ptarmigan unimpressed with me. It was then that I looked at my feet, noticing five or six ptarmigan chicks scrambling in all directions trying to get away from me! Even though I had my camera on me, I'm such a city slicker that I was startled with the ptarmigan and briefly worried about my own safety - botching the ptarmigan chick picture altogether!

Nothing like a grown man being scared of a 3 lb. bird!

The Orangeman's Lodge.

I might have went all the way over to Bay de Vieux if it weren't for the mosquitoes and thoughts of dinner.

Heading back, the narrow path through the moist woods was even more annoying the second time. Even as a few mosquitoes still attacked once back in Grey River, it was great to be away from the majority of them.

Hungry and thirsty, the north end of Grey River was skirted towards camp.

Forgetting the milk necessary for dinner, I was amazed at the selection and number of items at Young's Convenience, which is the hardware/grocery/liquor/clothing/convenience store you see in the above picture with the Canadian flag on display.

Walking inside, I noticed a window-based air conditioning unit and went about standing two feet from the frosty air. This would remain the case until a customer wanted a chocolate bar that was 6.5 feet off the ground and neither she, nor the store owner could reach it - I figured I should help.

Arriving back at the tungsten mine to cook dinner, I've certainly grown to love more elaborate camping dinner & easily think it is worth lugging the camp stove and propane. Afterward, it was on to the helicopter pad for a night cap, but the mosquitoes were simply too insistent. Even with a beautiful night, I was in the tent before long.

The ferry comes from Francois and leaves Grey River at 9:45, so I also retired early so I could make it up to the town overlook trail before leaving Grey River.

Waking up to an idyllic morning, I wondered how often the waters of Grey River are glass-like.

With plenty of time & such a fantastic morning, I meandered about the town slightly, delighted with the quiet, peaceful streets.

In comparison to the ski-doo trail hike up to the barrens, the lookout trail is a cakewalk. The only trouble arising from a few muddy and slippery rock sections near the cemetery.

After already consuming breakfast, it wasn't as if I really needed more food, but regardless, I ingested some trail mix, hearing song birds off in distant trees and watching far-off crows float along the sharp cliffs.

One complaint could be that the coming sun was behind Grey River from this vantage point.

Cutting across town to the camp site one last time, eventually everything was packed and I lugged my heavy hockey bag across the streets and bridges, towards the already waiting ferry.

It was a funny thing to be leaving Grey River so suddenly, just 18 hours after arriving there the day before. In that small amount of time though, I expanded my knowledge of this place exponentially from that foggy vision I had from the boat deck in 2010. Looking back in time, the two Grey Rivers don't even seem like the same place.

I suppose even when I see all 799 communities here, ones will remain to see in better weather, more thoroughly and to observe their changes over the past half-decade. In this case of Grey River, I was glad I returned.

Further down the coast at Francois, I fear they'll resettle sooner than later, taking away one of the most unique and breathtaking communities found on the island. I held the same fear for Grey River today as we sped past their modern light beacon - intensified later by the fact that the government upped the resettlement money to $270,000 per household (it used to only be $100,000).

Hearing this news, I immediately thought of Grey River, a place where maybe they see the writing on the wall and wonder about their village's viability? Take the $270,000 now, before a new government comes in and reduces that amount back to something more reasonable?

A news story ran soon after, that told of the fact that Grey River held a municipal vote to assess whether they would apply for resettlement. In a community of 120, with 21 children, only 33 of the eligible voters voted in favour of resettlement. The other 66 interestingly enough, voted to stay put.

Well Godspeed little Grey River.


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